Gateway Guardians

Enterprise Security demand has spiralled upwards. As the business grows for the established players, is the channel still big enough for the smaller solution providers to make their mark?

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By  Paul Barthram Published  December 1, 2003

I - Introduction|~||~||~|When the So.Big and Blaster viruses hit in the summer of 2003, many businesses were taken aback by the strength of the attacks. Others sat comfortably, knowing their systems had the advanced protection enterprise security products provide when deployed, configured and serviced by professionals.

The need for each of the Middle East's enterprises to attain a similar level of complete systems security has proved a boon for the local channel. Not only are there more eager users looking for kit than ever before, but the security vendors have been ramping up development and delivering both greater volumes and more diversified product lines, all of which are designed to remove vulnerabilities from local end user computing environments.

"[Although] the whole IT market has been going through a slow down phase this year, security has emerged as an area of real opportunity," says Hasan Zaheer, product manager, Seven Seas.

The mass of activity in the security market means its potential is rife. Those channel partners already established in the sector have seen an increase in business, while many more are beginning to target it due to the revenue it can provide.

Paramount Computers, for instance, used to focus on PC systems integration, but when it saw the potential within the security market it expanded its area of expertise to delivering the technologies required by end users to prevent infection from viruses and to avoid the disruption caused by attacks on their systems.

"We started out in the channel as a solutions provider some years ago, doing mostly systems integration in terms of selling PCs, but we wanted to diversify from the business we were doing simply because the margins were less in hardware," says Neeti Rodrigues, general manager of Paramount Computers. "We knew that existing as that company [a PC integrator] would not take us into a longer term objective [so we moved into security]," she explains.

Most of the service providers already involved in enterprise security suggest business has been growing at a rate of around 20% month-on-month since the beginning of the year, as users become increasingly aware of the need for security solutions.

"More people are calling up for an antivirus solutions now. Before they didn't realise how useful it was for them to have one, but now you definitely see a more literate customer base," says Rodrigues.
||**||II - The full package|~||~||~|
It is not just antivirus software that is proving popular though, as local users are beginning to understand that antivirus alone is not enough to ensure system invulnerability. This, in turn, provides resellers with the opportunity to deliver full solutions that take into account intrusion detection, firewalls and other security technologies, rather than simply selling shrink-wrapped antivirus software.

"The reseller is making money not only by installing an antivirus [package], but intrusion detection as well. So instead of buying an antivirus for US$10,000 the customer actually buys US$20,000 worth of product built into the solution," says Prajit Arakkal, Symantec business unit manager, Aptec Gulf.

"There have been various aspects of increased demand from customers, not only for products and solutions but for services and consultancy," adds Assad Hassed, managing director of Comsec International.

Those enterprises in which local resellers and systems integrators have deployed security solutions are already reaping the rewards of uninterrupted service, with sectors such as banking, oil & gas, government and private sector companies staying ahead of the adoption curve and protecting their systems with the latest solutions.

However, as established channel partners are already providing these enterprises with their security tools of choice, those resellers looking to enter this market may have to look outside of the established enterprise space.

A good starting opportunity is the small-to-medium sized business (SMB) segment. Currently, the sector still has low adoption rates of security technologies and as a result, the opportunities for furnishing a user with a complete set of security solutions is much greater. Furthermore, as SMBs tend to grow, especially in buoyant markets such as the Middle East, channel partners can grow with the user, providing additional licenses and services to the company as it increases in both scope and size.
||**||III - Customer focus|~||~||~|
"New entrants [to the enterprise security market] should focus on the SMB segment and go with certain finished products that can take care of particular problems. The SMB segment is the least aware [of security], so it's a matter of informing them and it's a relatively quick sale," says Zaheer.

"There are so many customers even now who probably still don't know how to maintain their systems in the SMB segment. And you'll be surprised there are some sites we've seen that can be 200-300 users, and still don't have a proper enterprise antivirus in place. There is enough opportunity in this segment for a lot more people to come in," adds Rodrigues.

Resellers and systems integrators looking to target both the existing enterprise market and growing SMB space can do so in a number of ways. One option is to start with basic solutions, such as antivirus. This not only allows for essentially trouble free implementations, but also opens the door for future sales of more sophisticated products and professional services.

"They [market entrants] can start off with an antivirus solution, which really doesn't require a lot of expertise, and then upgrade their skills slowly in order to go up the partner level," confirms Arakkal.

"When we initially sign partners, the introductory level will be as an enterprise sales partner, they don't even require a certified engineer to achieve that. All they require is people who can install a product and that's about it, and if they don't have the expertise, then we have got our engineers to back them up, so we are actually helping them up the ladder," he explains.

Larger scale opportunities do still exist for channel players looking to accelerate their position in the market, with clients such as internet service providers (ISPs) and other internet businesses in their infancy stages looking to bolster security. The trick for the service provider here is to convince the client he is capable of handling the implementation. Entry into this field is particularly suited to companies that have already established themselves in similar solutions or networking businesses before, or beginners who have partnered with a suitably large systems integrator.
||**||IV - Preparing for the future|~||~||~|
Whether starting with small solutions or partnering with larger systems integrators, certification is key for any reseller looking to get into the security market. Although this means training and taking exams, those working in this segment feel it is a crucial part of establishing credibility.

"Certification is very important, in the sense that even good corporate customers will always look for a vendor certified partner whenever they look at a solution," explains Jose Thomas, manager, Bulwark Data Systems.

"You need to have certification on some of the products which you're installing... [but] certification doesn't happen overnight," adds Arakkal.

While training on a particular solution can be time consuming for would-be providers, the bad news is that those wishing to successfully enter and capitalise on the local market growth ideally need to have a range of skills, as one vendor's product may not fit each potential customer. Furthermore, this need for cross product skills is only likely to increase as users become increasingly aware of what they need to secure their operations. "If they [the end users] are looking for a very high level of security, we may [have to] propose different products like multi-level firewalls," says Thomas.

Other considerations for enterprise security market entrants include the manpower required to service the needs of large organisations that often have multiple nodes and locations. Furthermore, most large end user organisations in the region also demand high quality and lengthy after sales service.

However, regardless of the investment necessary to get into the enterprise security market, the return appears to be a good one with those that have already built up the security side of their business reporting growing businesses and increased profits. Also, they suggest this is unlikely to change as the security market can only grow as attacks become more sophisticated and end users demand solutions capable of keeping them safe.

"Security is a very important part of the market, which is going to boom in the future," says Hassad.

"Internet security today is a hot topic, so make merry while you can is basically [the message]," adds Arakkal.||**||

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